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2004 moviemakers go after 'Polar Express' programs over copyright

For several years, Chicago area park districts have been running Christmas train rides called Santa's Polar Express.
November 7, 2013 8:50:16 AM PST
For several years, Chicago area park districts have been running Christmas train rides called Santa's Polar Express.

But this year there will be a change. The makers of the children's movie "Polar Express" say they have the rights to that name.

The popular Christmas movie was released nine years ago. "Polar Express" is based on the children's book of the same title. It's about a magical train that brings children to the North Pole to meet Santa.

"Probably after 'The Night Before Christmas,' it is the most popular book out there," said "Santa" John Sullivan.

It is so popular that suburbs throughout the Chicago area offer "Polar Express rides" as an annual Christmas event. But not this year. Many park districts, including Clarendon Hills, received a letter from Warner Brothers and railevents.com stating that they were practicing copyright infringement by using the name "Polar Express."

"We're trying to figure out the timing of it, because the movie came out many years ago," said Kelly Smith, Clarendon Hills Park District.

Instead of fighting it or paying a licensing fee, the Clarendon Hills Park District decided to change the name.

"We absolutely know we are going to give them a great event, we just know it won't be the polar express, It will be the Santa Train," Smith said.

And the Santa Train will be without any references to the polar express, including reading the book on board.

"We are looking at alternatives of different stories, I don't have any titles at this point, new theme, still Santa," Smith said.

But one Santa, who has made many-a-trip on the polar express in the Chicago area says the ride won't be the same without the popular theme. Sullivan says Warner Brothers and Rail Events deserve a lump of coal this year.

"This is Scrooge in action not letting the kids have the polar express trip," Sullivan said.

Polar Express rides are hardly unique to the Chicago suburbs, they are done in communities around the country and unless those park districts decide to pay up, they will also have to change the name.


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